In the Company of Valkyries
This installment of Rite Publishing’s „In the Company of…“-series clocks in at 39 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 35 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
This review was moved up in my reviewing queue at the request of my patreons.
Okay, the first thing you’ll note: New and improved layout! Really nice one, at that! Parchment-like background, central page numbers against a red backdrop, lion-like glyphs in the borders. Elegant and neat!
Now, as always, we begin this supplement with a missive to Qwilion of Questhaven, chronicling and interview with a member of the species in question, which means that, yes, this pdf, like all installments in the series, is actually a nice reading experience, as what otherwise would be dry notes, takes on a personal touch: “Hail and well met, scholar!” indeed, as this is how we begin the supplement. Now, obviously, valkyries are chosen, not born – the initiation sees the valkyrie, according to narrator Scorcia Stormcrow, gaze down a chalice in a hall, where no drop may be spilled; they gaze into a well, reliving the final, mortal fight, as weakness bleeds out of the valkyrie to be. The new initiate receives a mentor and the pdf proceeds to explain the details of the choosing, the importance of drink and poetry, and indeed, the valkyries retain some aspect of their erstwhile race, though it usually is cosmetic – yes, this means that half-orcs, elves, dwarves, etc. all can become valkyries. The pdf also explains the meaning of some famous names associated with valkyries.
Now, basic stats-wise, valkyries are native outsiders with +2 Strength and Charisma and -2 Dexterity. They are Medium, have darkvision 60 ft., resistance 5 to acid and cold and gain deathwatch as a supernatural ability 1/day, using character level as caster level – though only for the purpose of seeing creatures with souls. As battle-trained fighters, armor the valkyrie is proficient in never impacts her speed, nor does it add its armor check penalty to Ride checks. A valkyrie gains a valiant steed, which acts as a druid animal companion that does not automatically improve over the levels. The steed must be a horse, which is always combat trained and gains Light Armor Proficiency as a bonus feat. It does not gain share spells, and may be replaced if slain after a 1-week mourning period.
The signature ability, though, would obviously be the choosing of the slain: 1/day as a standard action, the valkyrie may draw a soul from a recently deceased body and safeguard it indefinitely, as per soul bind, but she may only do so for creatures willing to have their souls thus carried. The ability may only be used on a target if the target has been slain within a timeframe equal to a number of rounds that is equal or less than the valkyrie’s character level. If the soul is reluctant, the valkyrie may use Diplomacy to attempt to convince a target. In order to carry a soul, the valkyrie’s character level must be equal to or greater than the creature’s HD and she may only have one soul at any given time. She may free a soul as a full-round action. And before you ask: The pdf does talk about souls, what does or doesn’t have them, and retains full GM-control. The valkyries won’t wreck your world-building.
We get a proper height and weight table, fyi – being immortal, no age is given, obviously. The race comes with a total of 9 alternate racial traits. Instead of the standard darkvision and resistances, we can choose negative energy resistance and 1/day immediate action + Cha-mod (min 1)to saves versus negative energy, energy drain and death effects as well as +2 racial bonus to saves against the like – however, upon using this boost, the valkyrie loses the benefits of the trait for 24 hours. Cool! The resistances may also be replaces in favor of 10 resistance to one of the default energy types. Instead of being battle trained and the resistances, there is an option for a Charisma-based mage armor like effect and one for better divination CL as well as an initiative boost after casting such a spell. Speaking of divinations: We can replace the steed with a better form of augury 1/day. Fated sight may be replaced with Knowledge (planes) as a class skill and perfect knowledge of where she is in the planes as well as the knowledge about the closest gate. We also get a racial trait to make Small valkyries and the signature spear wielding: Instead of the steed, valkyries can use a standard action to call a masterwork spear to their side, which may be enchanted as usual and retains the enchantments, but may not be permanently destroyed. Finally, the steed may be replaced with wings: Here, we can see the mastery of the designers: The wings start off as gliding and synergy with the battle trained trait is covered. It should also be noted that the pdf qualifies these traits as racial feats – so yeah, you can take them sans trading in other options, and we get different prerequisites for qualifying traits!
Favored class options cover arcanist, bard, bloodrager, cavalier, magus, medium, occultist, skald, sorcerer, warpriest, witch and wizard as well as the racial paragon class., but more on that later.
Before we dive into the details there, let us talk for a second about the feats: We get no less than 18 racial feats, which include the ability to have the companion steed scale, quicker summoning and banishing of the spear, halving the duration of divinations with casting times exceeding a round, divination-based SPs…and yes, there is a feat-sequence that nets you flight! Yes, it is locked behind the appropriate minimum ranks/levels and will not hamper your game’s assumptions at low levels. The wings can be further upgraded to serve as natural attacks (properly codified!) AND the upgraded metallic wings may act as shields and cause bleed damage. HECK yes! (And yes, the prerequisites for these make sense, regarding level-range!) The paragon class can choose an extra insight (more on that later) and mid-level death ward that also acts as a safety net to keep you from falling below 0 hp, can be found. Aura sight is also here and really high-level valkyries can 1/day claim the soul of a living being.
Now, two of the feats tie in with Norse lore particularly well – these allow for the creation and improvement, respectively, of enchanted meads, a new item category of sorts, which can take four forms. The first is a more potent spell than what can usually be contained in a potion; the second allows for the creation of a potion-equivalent of up to 6th level. The third combines two spells into a single potion and the fourth uses strong alcohol to lower the cost of the brewing process, which is amazing – and before you ask: If you attempt to cheese these by being immune to the effects of alcohol…well, you can’t. The respective basic crafting mechanics are explained in a concise and precise manner that bespeaks that the authors did their math. Kudos! Beyond the basic crafting system expansion provided here, we also get 5 special, specific meads, which provide potent spell benefits, but, like the base engine, they come with risky drawbacks if you can’t keep your mead down. This represents, in short, the flavor of the race really well in the mechanics. We can all picture amused valkyries smirking over mortals that can’t keep their mead down, right?
Now, while pretty much every feat in the racial section is for valkyries (surprise), there are three that aren’t: The Valkyrie Style and its two follow-up feats. Valkyrie Style lets you wield a two-handed polearm one-handed while using a light shield or buckler, but, following the rules, you don’t get the 1.5 Str-mod to damage when doing so. The follow-up feat, Valkyrie Strike unlocks this damage boost and adds +1d6 precision damage with it – and this bonus precision damage bypasses all forms of DR. That is really interesting: Precision damage is easily one of the least valuable damage types in PFRPG and the DR-ignoring, while usually not something I like, makes it actually valuable. Kudos! The third feat, Valkyrie Fury lets you add a shield bash when making a full attack – sans losing the AC-bonus. Oh, and free trip attempt on a hit, sans AoO! Really cool style-chain! The base feat for this Style-chain also acts as one of the prerequisites of the Shield Maiden PrC, which represents one way other than dying to become a valkyrie.
The PrC requires the Valkyrie Style feat, BAB +5, 3 ranks in two Knowledge skills. Here is a great way to note one fact that made me smile and that is rather important for quite a few of my readers: Valkyries are obviously gendered entities, right? In another supplement, we’d probably read a “female only” line in the prerequisites for the PrC and be done with it. Well, guess what? Both regarding being chosen after slain and PrC only cares about how your character identifies – a shield maiden must identify as female, but doesn’t have to be female. This is really cool, as one could see the struggle, bloodshed and fights throughout a character’s progression as a symbolic, potentially cathartic representation of the struggle of transitioning, adding potentially deep symbological depth to the playing experience. So yeah, big kudos!
The PrC, on a mechanical side, gets d10 HD, 4 + Int skills per level, proficiency with simple and martial weapons as well as all armors and shields, excluding tower shields. The PrC gets full BAB-progression as well as ½ Fort-save progression. At 1st level, we get + Cha-bonus to saves (not stacking with the paladin’s divine grace, thankfully), and she may 1/day reroll a save, but upon doing so, loses the benefits of the ability for 24 hours. The shield maiden also gets the valkyrie’s ease when operating in armor at this level. At 2nd level and every even level thereafter, the shield maiden gains a boon, chosen from a selection of 6: She may substitute the armor or shield bonus she has with her Charisma-modifier (thankfully, min and max values included); 3+ Cha-mod valkyrie-style deathwatch, gaining an insight from the paragon class, a bonus feat (fighter level caveat included), resistance and gaining valkyrie traits may be found here. 3rd level nets fatebond: Either, you get a cool spear with enhancement bonuses and special abilities (scaling, caps intact) or a steed – and paladin-synergy is once more covered. Kudos! 5th level nets light fortification while wearing armor, and, in a cool twist, actually provides synergy with armors actually enchanted to grant the property. 7th level nets glory, which is a mini-smite of sorts usable up to ½ class levels times per day, each use lasting 1 round. When confirming a critical hit against a target of her character level + 2 in CR or higher, she regains uses – cool, and uncheesable! 9th level yields a death ward that may be used reflexively and 10th level provides the coveted valkyrie ascension upon dying. Really cool PrC!
Now, we also get quite an array of different racial archetypes for valkyries, the first of which would the be fortune weaver witch, who is locked into a raven or eagle familiar. 5th level yields a cool ability that lets you 1/day speak a target’s fate, causing a suggestion – if the target disobeys it, he is cursed. Cool! The ability may be used more often by expending spell slots, but only may target a creature 1/day. Similarly, rerolls for allies (9th level) may also be used more often via spell slot expenditure and at 11th level, we get, following a similar design paradigm, the dispelling of charms, curses, compulsions or mind-affecting effects, potentially redistributing them. Two major hexes and grand hexes complement a flavorful, cool archetype. The keeper of souls warpriest is locked into repose and builds on it, with the soul shepherding and planar ally options representing the agent of the valkyries and their agenda – nice!
The raven feeder would be a bloodrager who modifies bloodrage to add bleed damage. Raven familiar and the ability to select alus instead of bloodline powers complement this one, building on the bleeding theme. The runecaster magus is one of the coolest archetypes for the class I’ve seen in a while: Basically, arcane pool is replaced with a rune pool, which allows for the improvement of weapons to provide passive benefits, from which other characters can benefit. These runes, once inscribed, may be activated, granting fitting benefits, getting stacking issues right and unlocking combo’d runes add higher levels, which is, engine-wise, amazing and could carry its own class. Runic tattoos and armor also are included. Cool one! The Saga singer skald’s song can yields Diehard and further improves if the target has Diehard already. The telling of heroic sagas (urgh, I shudder when writing that plural, even though it’s the commonly used one – to me, the correct term for the plural is sögur, but that as an aside) replaces several passive abilities with these active boosts, which btw. may be combined at higher levels.
Speaking of which: We get no less than 5 bardic/skaldic masterpieces, all of which are epic: Brynnhild’r Lament nets an improved rage; Deliberation of the Norns nets save rerolls for allies. Kenning is amazing, allowing for the prevention of verbal communication of tactics, aiding, etc. via potent poetic allusions. Love it! Saga of Unbreakable Fate nets a slew of immunities, and the epic Ragnarok’s Requiem, usable only by the mightiest of heroes, provides a combo meteor swarm/mass cure serious wounds. All of these are worth taking for their price.
All right, so let’s move on to the valkyrie paragon, shall we? The class gets d8 HD, full BAB-progression, good Fort- and Will-saves, 4 + Int skills per level, proficiency with simple and martial weapons as well as all armors and shields, excluding tower shields. The class begins play with a mount that works as a druid companion. If the character has the valiant steed trait, the mount is treated as class level +1, which makes it really strong at low levels. The mount may be called to the valkyrie’s side 1/day. First level also nets 3 + Cha-mod deathwatch as a SP, usable versus creatures she is unable to see, but sans pinpointing them. 5th level allows for somewhat status-like information for those under the effects of her deathwatch. 7th level also adds knowledge of conditions to the information and 13th level makes the ability constant.
6th level yields a 1/day plane shift with up to 8 other creatures – it is not perfect, though, and may put the valkyrie and her entourage at other places if she is not familiar with them. Yes, random plane table provided. This risk is eliminated at 13th level and 19th level makes it flawless. At 11th level, the valkyrie can attempt to choose unwilling souls slain (which can be a really cool plot point!) and 17th level allows the valkyrie to destroy souls of the slain she carries to grant herself boons – a decision she should not lightly make. The capstone yields automatic critical confirmation against all creatures with a soul, as well as 1/day attack, skill, save or ability-check reroll with + Cha-mod added. Additionally, she can force such a reroll 1/day on a foe, using her Cha-mod as a penalty.
Of course, this is Rite Publishing, and as such, the class obviously sports some serious player agenda. This time around, that would be represented by the insights the class gets, which are the talents. The first is gained at 2nd level, with an additional one unlocked every 2 levels thereafter. Some of these build upon another and some have minimum levels – at 10th level, we for example have automatic planar adaptation. The theme of future’s sight is represented by the very potent augur’s strike at 4th level, which nets true strike as a SP, usable 3 + Cha-mod times per day…with the difference that she must select the foe against which the bonus applies and the fact that the bonus lasts and halves in subsequent rounds, as the ability represents seeing into the future. This also prevents novaing of the ability, which is a really smart way of handling the concept. Swift action performance-like minor boosts , bless with temporary hit points added, bonus feats…At high levels, full attack charges are possible (again, locked behind a sufficiently high cap), seeing in perfect darkness, sensing deceit, a variant lay on hands, retaining AC when charging, making the return of those slain by her from the dead harder, ensuring that the sanctity of the dead is retained – the insights are MANY. We get more than 4 pages of different insights, which run a gamut from mechanically potent and engine-wise interesting to extremely flavorful, often blending them. You can make a really potent guardian valkyrie with constant detect spells; you can make a fearsome charge, a true champion of spear fighting, guardians of the fallen and any combination of such themes. The leitmotifs are represented in a concise and well-crafted manner.
No, we’re not done yet! Remember how I mentioned the cup of welcome before? Well, the pdf also contains 6 potent valkyrie-themed items, including the cup, which represents the classic theme of hospitality from the myths; a potent armor, a shield, seiðr runes, a bracelet from the world tree and a very potent spear complement this book.
Editing and formatting are top-notch on both a formal and rules-language level – I noticed no issues in either. Layout adheres to Rite Publishing’s new two-column full-color standard and is really nice. The pdf is chockfull with cool full-color artwork, with only one piece being somewhat less nice. It should be noted that the artworks do not contain unbecoming cheesecake and just depict badass warrior ladies. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.
As some of you know, one of my fields of academic expertise is actually Scandinavian literature and culture. I am actually fluent in Norse. I loathe most depictions of valkyries in mainstream media, mainly because they don’t get what makes them fascinating. The whole ideology and culture that provided the cultural underpinnings of the concept of the valkyrie is, ultimately, not one that has stemmed from the Judeo-Christian dichotomous thinking process and ideology that resulted in the creation of cultural artifacts like our RPGs – in a world where good and evil are absolutes, it is hard to properly convey the concept of valkyries and the depiction of paladin-like battle-angels makes me barf internally. It is testament to the obvious love and attention to detail, that the representation of the valkyrie-concept, in spite of being codified with the confines of a system where good and evil are tangible forces, works here.
The love for concept and lore is apparent in each of the design-components, and detailed stacking caveats and a vast amount of small stumbling stones are avoided left and right, with the grace befitting of the valkyrie. Now, Kendra Leigh Speedling has already penned one of my favorite hybrid classes, but I *think* this may be the first time I have reviewed anything by Mara Lynn Butler – and the two ladies and their designs seamlessly gel together herein. No authorial voice clash can be found and the book, beyond getting the tone right, juggles complex and unique concepts in an admirable manner. There is a ton to love in this book, with race and paragon class as well as archetypes being pretty damn amazing; the addition of the PrC as a central concept is another huge plus here, and once we’re almost done, we also get the neat mead-engine, which represents the cherry on top of something truly amazing. This is a phenomenal representation of the concept, that neither compromises the rich lore associated with valkyries, nor the integrity of PFRPG. The pdf manages to actually blend the two components in an elegant and amazing manner.
In short: This continues the streak of absolutely phenomenal books in the series, standing as an impressive and amazing example of the cool things you can do with the system, even after all these years: From tweaks to SPs to new items, this oozes care and passion, always takes, design-wise, the high road. Now, excuse me, I have a distinct craving to listen to the Crüxshadows, a ton of good pagan metal, and build some badass valkyries. Rating? Oh yeah, forgot that, didn’t I? Obviously, this is an easy 5 stars + seal of approval, given sans hesitation. “Fate is armed with arrows – and she watches our battlefields.”
You can get this amazing supplement here on OBS!